Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Dead Rationalism

I was honored to preach from our pulpit last Sunday and spoke on elements of living a religious life, one of which was to embrace a vigorous uncertainty or doubt out of which comes the "work" of religion. This morning, reading James Walker's sermon "Spiritual Death" (see all posts: Walker) I came across much the same idea, better said. Some excerpts:

"What, then, is spiritual death? It consists in the absence of that sensibility of soul by which men are made capable of feeling and appreciating spiritual things. Sometimes this arises from the fact that the spiritual element in our nature has never been excited and developed; the man has never been spiritually born. But it is more frequently owing to a torpor or palsy which, from some cause, comes over the spiritual faculties after their partial development, to such a degree as, in some instances, entirely to destroy and suspend their vital and legitimate functions.
Let us now advert briefly to some of the causes conspiring to induce that indifference and insensibility to spiritual things, which constitutes, as we have seen, spiritual death...And first, I would say, that less is to be feared, in this connection, from erroneous than from lifeless training. A writer, of whom our country and the age may justly boast (William Ellery Channing), has said: "I do not think that so much harm is done by giving error to a child, as by giving truth in a lifeless form. What is the misery of the multitudes in Christian countries ? Not that they disbelieve Christianity, or that they hold great errors, but that truth lies dead within them.
Give us the living truth ; but, if we cannot have that, give us, in God's name, living error. As liberal Christians we are, beyond question, over- critical and fastidious in this matter. It may not be so with other denominations, but our chief danger grows out of an under current that is continually setting towards a dead rationalism. Give us, I repeat it, living error, rather than dead truth ; for the same maxim holds good in regard to our higher as well as our lower nature: " so long as there is life, there is hope." Besides, do we not know that a ship under sail, though a little off from its course, can get into it again in half the time it will take another vessel at anchor under a headland, or waterlogged in a calm, to get under way?
Again, so far as religious indifference and insensibility are concerned, there is less to fear, as it seems to me, from the influence of an avowed and active scepticism than from the influence of a scepticism which is unacknowledged and merely passive. Well and truly was it said by Archbishop Leighton : " Where there is a great deal of smoke, and no clear flame, it argues much moisture in the matter, yet it witnesseth certainly that there is fire there...Men that know nothing in sciences have no doubts. He never truly believes who was not made first sensible, and convinced of his unbelief. Never be afraid to doubt, if only you have the disposition to believe, and doubt in order that you may end in believing the truth." l If we must have an active or a passive scepticism, give us the first. An active scepticism will often cure itself, work itself clear of its difficulties; but there is no hope whatever for a man who will neither believe nor inquire. An active scepticism, moreover, does not imply an indifference to truth, nor prevent men from discriminating; so that, while it leads them to deny this thing and doubt that, it leaves their confidence in other things unimpaired, and perhaps strengthened and quickened. "
It's time to pull our anchors out of the seas of dead rationalism and set sail...Blessings

No comments: